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January Existing-Home Sales, Prices Fall

Existing-home sales fell 5.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.49 million units in January, down from 4.74 million units in December and 8.6 percent below the 4.91 million units in January 2008, NAR reported this morning. NAR estimates that distressed sales, including foreclosures or lender-mediated short sales, comprised approximately 45 percent of all the sales recorded in January.

The national median existing-home sale price for all housing types was $170,300 in January, down 14.8 percent from a year ago when the median was $199,800. Prices have now reached their lowest level since March 2003. Total housing inventory fell 2.7 percent to 3.6 million existing homes available for sale. This represents a 9.6-month supply at the current sales pace, up from a 9.4-month supply in December.

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun says uncertainty concerning the economic stimulus package kept some buyers on the sidelines last month. “Given so much stimulus package discussion in January, some would-be buyers simply sat out for clarity and certainty on the nature of housing stimulus,” he says. “The housing market will soon get a lift from very favorable buying conditions – not only from improved affordability, but also from the stimulus of an $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit, and higher conforming loan limits that will allow more people to tap into 50-year low mortgage rates.”

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast dropped 14.7 percent to 640,000 in January, and were 23.8 percent lower than January 2008. Sales in the Midwest fell 5.7 percent in to 1.00 million and were 16.7 percent below a year ago. In the South, existing-home sales declined 5.7 percent to 1.64 million and were 15.9 percent below January 2008. Sales in the West were unchanged at an annual rate of 1.20 million and were 29.0 percent stronger than a year ago.

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